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May 16, 2015

I have a space between my front teeth – and my teeth are a little crooked. Do I have any options, other than braces?

479705143Many people would love to have a straighter smile. Whether it’s crooked teeth, gaps between your teeth, overlapping teeth, crowded teeth or other imperfections, there are a number of options available to correct your teeth alignment – without having to get a full set of braces.

Orthodontic work is a type of dental treatment that deals with adjusting the alignment of the teeth. The most common type of orthodontic treatment is braces – which is a rite of passage for many young people during the teenage years.

But what if you don’t want braces, or don’t have time for braces, or can’t afford braces, or are no longer at a time of your life where braces are socially acceptable?

Fortunately, there are other ways to correct certain minor imperfections with the alignment of your teeth. Here are some of the main options that might work for your situation:

  • Removable Retainer: A removable retainer is a small mouthpiece – usually made of plastic and/or metal, that you wear over your teeth. Retainers can keep teeth from moving and can also be used to “train” teeth to move in a new direction. Retainers are one of the most common orthodontic appliances – if your teeth can be corrected without having to get braces, a retainer is usually the solution that will be recommended to you.
  • Permanent Retainer: A permanent retainer is a metal bracket that is cemented to the backs of your teeth – usually after the successful completion of treatment with braces. A permanent retainer does just that: it “retains” teeth “permanently” in the position where they were moved to during the braces treatment. Depending on your situation, a permanent retainer might be an option to keep certain troublesome teeth from moving any further out of position – for example, if you have a growing gap between your front teeth, a permanent retainer can be put on those teeth to hold them in place and stop the gap from increasing.
  • Invisalign treatment: Invisalign is a type of orthodontic treatment that is a popular alternative to braces – especially for adults. With Invisalign treatment, your dentist will fit you with a customized plastic mouthpiece that you wear over your teeth. The Invisalign “aligner” system will gradually move your teeth into their new positions – giving you a straight new smile without the inconvenience and discomfort of traditional braces.
  • Braces: Okay, I know you said that you didn’t want braces…but have you seen some of the new advances in braces technology these days? You might be surprised at how comfortable – and how nearly invisible – braces can be. And you don’t need to be embarrassed about being an adult with braces. More adults than ever before are getting braces to improve the look of their smiles and help maintain the long-term health of their teeth and gums. So don’t be too quick to give up on braces – you might be surprised at how “do-able” braces can be for you.

As always, be sure to talk with your dentist about all of the options available to you. Some people need more complex treatment that can only be provided by an orthodontist – if needed, your dentist can refer you to qualified orthodontists in your area.

April 16, 2015

I’m afraid of the dentist. What can I do?

462389477Dentists do our best to be approachable, friendly and reassuring for our patients. But some people find themselves afraid of us – not afraid of the smiling person in the white coat, but afraid of what happens in the dentist’s chair.

Dental fear, also known as dental phobia, odontophobia, or dentophobia, is surprisingly common – and it can be a serious problem for many people. People with extreme dental fear have serious qualms and reservations about going to see a dentist – so much so that they go out of their way to avoid making a dental appointment.

It’s perfectly normal to have some anxiety about going to the dentist – after all, most of us do not enjoy having our teeth drilled. Some of us are afraid of the discomfort or inconvenience that can arise from routine dental treatments – or we’re afraid of unpleasant surprises (“What? I have another cavity?”).

But for some people, anxiety about going to the dentist gets to the point where it actually harms their oral health. For approximately 5-10% of American adults, dental phobia is so severe that they avoid dental care at all costs.

Sadly enough, if you are afraid of going to the dentist, the worst thing you can do for yourself is to avoid going to the dentist. When people with dental phobia stay away from the dentist for too long, they tend to develop more severe, costly and uncomfortable dental problems. For example, if you’re afraid to get your teeth checked every six months, and so you go six years without seeing a dentist, in the end, you might find yourself with severe dental problems that require extensive treatment to correct – which means you’ll be seeing a lot more of your dentist than you had imagined!

So, if you find yourself paralyzed with anxiety about going to the dentist, what can you do?

Here are a few tips:

  • Talk to your dentist. It can be very difficult to do this, but it has to be done: tell your dentist about your struggles. If it’s too hard to talk directly, write it down in a letter and mail it to your dentist’s office. And you don’t have to say you’re “afraid” – just say, “I am struggling with some issues – I do not feel comfortable going to the dentist. I had some bad experiences earlier in life and I need to feel reassured about my dental care.”
  • Try a different dentist. Is there something about your dentist’s demeanor that makes you uneasy? Are you just not able to feel comfortable at your dentist’s office? Perhaps you should shop around. Interview a few other dentists, or ask friends for recommendations. There are usually other options available if you just don’t feel like your current dentist is a good fit. Some dentists even offer special services to help patients who suffer from dental fear – if you can find a good, empathetic dentist who understands your feelings, you might be surprised at how quickly your fears go away.
  • Breathe deeply. If you feel persistently anxious and uncomfortable while at your dentist’s office, your dentist can recommend some relaxations techniques that can help. Breathe in slowly through your nose and exhale out through your mouth.
  • Get informed. Sometimes people are most fearful about the things that are unfamiliar to them – so if you have anxiety about a certain dental procedure, ask your dentist to show you exactly what needs to be done. This will help you feel more in control of your dental care and not feel like things are just being done to you – it’s important to feel empowered about your health care, and dental care is no different.
  • Find help online. The Internet makes it possible for people who are struggling with almost any problem to find other people with similar challenges – and dental phobias are no exception. Do a Google search for “dental fear support group” and see what you can find – you can learn a lot just from reading other people’s ideas and helpful suggestions. You are not alone in your fear of going to the dentist. Many other people have been in your situation and have gone on to conquer the anxiety.

Don’t let fear and anxiety keep you from getting the oral health care that you need. Dental phobia is a real problem – but it can be helped.

March 16, 2015

What are dentures? What are my options?

151545340Dentures are what used to be called “false teeth” – they are prosthetic replacements for teeth that have been lost due to tooth decay, infection or other causes. Most people think of dentures as being a full set of false teeth – like the ones George Washington used. While it’s true that “full dentures” still exist and are used by some dental patients, this type of denture is a rather extreme type of dental care – most people in modern-day America are not going to lose all of their natural teeth during the course of their lives.

However, if you or one of your family members find yourselves in a situation where most of your teeth need to be removed, or if your teeth have decayed to the point that you are considering replacing them with dentures, here are some tips and pointers to keep in mind.

There are several options for dentures, ranging in cost and in the degree of the impact on your lifestyle.

Full dentures: This is the most extreme kind of denture treatment – this is for people who have lost all of their natural teeth. Some patients who have experienced severe tooth decay might decide to remove their remaining teeth in order to replace all their teeth with dentures. This is a major decision and should be carefully considered – discuss your options with your dentist and with your loved ones.

Removable partial dentures: Partial dentures can be affixed with the support of existing natural teeth. Even if there are only one or two teeth remaining on the top or bottom jaw, this can still be helpful in creating a better fit for the denture. There are many types of partial dentures depending on the number of teeth that are missing and the location of teeth that need to be replaced.

If you need to get full dentures:

  • Consider the decision carefully. Some people who have only a few natural teeth remaining decide to get their natural teeth removed in order to replace them with a full denture – often, these patients regret the decision. Don’t make any decisions too hastily – talk it over with a dentist who you can trust. The general recommendation is that patients should try to keep as many of their natural teeth as possible, for as long as possible – the decision to remove your remaining teeth should not be made lightly.
  • Top dentures are easier. If you do need a full denture, most patients have better success with the top teeth than with the bottom. Bottom dentures tend to be more complex to fit and tend not to perform as well.

What about partial dentures? What are my options?

In general, partial dentures have two main options – fixed and removable.

  • Fixed dentures: These dentures are fixed into your mouth by your dentist – they include bridgework (replacement teeth built around your other existing teeth).
  • Removable dentures: This type of denture can be safely removed by yourself – one common example is an “overdenture” or a piece that you place into your mouth that fits over your existing teeth.

Will dentures make me look “different?”

Modern dentures are meant to look as much as possible like natural teeth. Most people will not notice that you are wearing dentures.

What are some other benefits of dentures?

Many patients who get dentures for the first time report that they are able to speak, eat, and converse more easily with other people. Dentures can also be a big boost for a person’s self-esteem, as they make it easier to smile openly, talk with people out in public, and generally present yourself confidently to the world.

What are some of the challenges involved with dentures?

Dentures can take some time to get used to. You might have some pain or discomfort at first – talk to your dentist if the pain continues; you might need to have your dentures adjusted or re-fitted. It can take some time to learn how to speak and eat normally after being fitted with dentures. Dentures also need to be cleaned properly and need to be well taken care of to prevent them getting damaged, lost or broken.

Dentures can be a difference-maker in your life – or in the life of one of your loved ones. Talk to your dentist to get some more information on the options that might be best for you.

February 16, 2015

What is a root canal?

465217799A root canal is a type of dental procedure used to treat advanced tooth decay or severe infection to a tooth. The medical term for a root canal is “endodontic therapy” and a dentist who specializes in root canal work and related treatments is called an “endodontist.”

Root canals have a reputation for being painful, costly, and generally something to avoid. It’s true that this type of dental work is more complicated and time-consuming than others. Most people do not look forward to getting a root canal – this procedure has often been the subject of jokes, as in: “I’d rather get a root canal!”

But if you understand the facts about root canal treatment, hopefully the whole process will be more understandable and reassuring. You don’t need to feel afraid of having a root canal – it’s just part of the process of healing your teeth and getting on with your life.

A journey to the center of your tooth…

The “root canal” is the part of the tooth that includes the internal chamber inside the tooth which is full of pulp and nerves. The tooth’s nerve is not terribly important to the day-to-day functioning of your teeth – the main purpose of a tooth’s nerve is to detect hot and cold. But if your tooth pulp and nerve become infected, it can cause big problems for your tooth.

Abscess makes the heart grow fonder?

When a tooth’s pulp and nerve become infected, or if tooth decay proceeds to the point that it affects the interior of the tooth, this is called an “abscess” – you have an “abscessed” tooth. This means that your tooth is basically being infected and/or damaged from the inside out – the exterior of the tooth might appear normal (or nearly normal), but the inside of the tooth is full of pain.

How do I know if I need a root canal?

One of the first signs that you need a root canal is extreme pain in your tooth – a really bad toothache.

Other symptoms include extreme tooth sensitivity to hot and cold; discoloration or darkening of the tooth; swelling, tenderness, or a recurring pimple on the nearby gums.

At other times, root canal work may be needed even if no symptoms are present – this is one of the things that dentists check for during your regular dental appointments.

What happens during a root canal?

Basically, when you get a root canal, the dentist drills into your tooth, removes the infected/decayed pulp and nerves, gives the tooth a thorough cleaning, and then seals up the tooth. The main portion of the root canal work can often be done in one visit, but the dentist might wait a week before sealing the tooth, especially if there was an infection – the dentist will treat the infected tooth interior with medication prior to sealing. The end result of a root canal is often a dental crown or other permanent restoration – you will end up with a fully functional tooth, even if it’s no longer a “natural” tooth.

How painful is a root canal?

Although root canal treatment has a bad reputation for being painful, most patients report that it doesn’t feel much different from getting a regular dental filling. Your dentist will use a local anesthetic to numb the surrounding area of your teeth and gums. Most patients are able to treat any follow-up discomfort with over-the-counter pain relievers like ibuprofen, and the vast majority of root canal patients are able to return to their normal activities the next day.

So don’t be afraid if you find out that you need a root canal. Far from being the object of jokes, this type of dental treatment can give you many new reasons to smile.

January 16, 2015

I keep getting painful ulcers in my mouth – why?

465464685Mouth ulcers are a common problem for many people, and there are a number of possible types of mouth ulcers and many possible causes.

One of the most common types of mouth ulcer is a canker sore. These are painful and annoying, but usually not harmful. Canker sores can appear almost anywhere inside your mouth. They usually are caused by minor health issues or changes in your body – for example, emotional stress, minor deficiencies in your diet, hormonal changes, or a viral infection. Canker sores can also result from excessive tooth brushing, or biting your tongue or cheek.

Canker sores and other mouth ulcers are usually nothing to worry about, and they usually go away on their own. Some people get canker sores more often than others; they often run in families.

How can I treat mouth ulcers?

Most mouth ulcers can be treated by improved oral hygiene. Try using a mouthwash or gargle – even a simple homemade mixture of salt and warm water. Flush the sore spot a few times a day and see if it gets better.

If you have severe discomfort from the mouth ulcer, talk to your dentist. Your dentist can recommend an over-the-counter topical ointment that you can rub directly onto the ulcer – for example, an antihistamine or antacid. If these don’t do the trick, your dentist can prescribe other more advanced treatment  like corticosteroid medication.

Another way to relieve mouth ulcers is to avoid hot and spicy foods, as these tend to exacerbate the discomfort.

Mouth ulcers and oral cancer

It’s important to pay attention to what’s going on in your mouth. If you have an ulcer or sore spot in your mouth that won’t heal, you should call your dentist to get it looked at as soon as possible. Some mouth ulcers can be a sign of oral cancer – and oral cancer needs to be detected early so it can be treated.

If you have a sore or ulcer in your mouth that doesn’t go away on its own after 3 weeks, go see your dentist. Make sure to ask your dentist specifically about oral cancer – and if you’re not confident in your dentist’s ability to diagnose oral cancer, get a second opinion. If your dentist is concerned that the mouth ulcer may be a sign of oral cancer, you will need to get a biopsy of the affected area of your mouth.

I don’t mean to alarm anyone by writing this, but I can’t emphasize it enough: it is crucial to diagnose oral cancer in the early stages of the disease. If oral cancer is not caught early, it can lead to death. Oral cancer is one of the few types of cancer that have not had a decline in death rates during the past 20 years – it can be treated and cured, but if left undiagnosed it can be deadly.

Smokers, heavy drinkers and tobacco chewers are at the highest risk of getting oral cancer, but this type of cancer can occur in anyone. So be sure to pay attention to mouth ulcers when they happen – usually they’re nothing to worry about and will go away quickly, but if you have a bad mouth ulcer that has been around for awhile, it might be a sign of something much more serious.

December 16, 2014

What is a cavity?

A cavity is a hole in your tooth. Cavities are caused by tooth decay – the process of wearing down the tooth enamel that is caused by bacteria on the teeth.

Tooth decay happens as a result of sugar being left on the teeth – for example, after eating candy, cakes, cereals, breads, or other foods that contain starches, sugars and carbohydrates. Sugar is the culprit for tooth decay because bacteria that live on our teeth love to eat sugar – and when bacteria eat sugar, they digest the sugar and convert it into acid, which then goes to work attacking the enamel of our teeth.

This probably sounds menacing – it’s not! It’s perfectly normal to eat carbohydrates and sugar; it’s perfectly natural to have bacteria on your teeth – all people do. The problem happens when sugar is left to sit for extended periods on the surface of your teeth – or when we eat too much sugar and do not have a balanced diet. Then the bacteria in our mouths get out of control, leading to buildup of plaque – that thick, opaque substance on the surface of teeth – and the acid buildup on the surface of our teeth gets to be overwhelming. This is when tooth decay and cavities happen.

How can cavities be prevented?

Here are the two most important things you can do to prevent cavities:

  • Eat a good, balanced diet. Most people in modern-day America eat far too much sugar and carbohydrates. This is one of the contributing factors to the obesity rate, and it also leads to poor dental health. If you drink lots of soda and eat lots of sugary foods every day, you are going to be at higher risk for cavities. The health of your teeth is connected to the health of the rest of your body – and it starts with the kind of food that you are putting into your body.
  • Brush and floss every day. Think of the process of avoiding cavities as an ongoing battle – every day, the bacteria in your mouth go to work trying to damage your teeth, and you need to keep stopping them. By brushing your teeth (twice a day – once before bedtime and once in the morning) and flossing every day, you are helping to slow the buildup of plaque and avoid the harmful acids that can break down your tooth enamel over time. There’s no “magic bullet” for fighting cavities; instead it’s a process of ongoing, steady resistance.

What if I brush and floss, and still get cavities? Is something wrong with me?

Some people are at higher risk for getting cavities – even if they don’t have a high-sugar diet, even if they do have good brushing and flossing habits. Often people think of cavities as something that only happens to children who eat too much candy – but cavities can occur in older adults as well. Some people are at higher risk for cavities due to family history or due to the unique characteristics of their teeth. Pregnant women are often at higher risk for cavities because of the sugar cravings that often accompany pregnancy – so if you’re pregnant, pay extra attention to your dental care.

Cavities are best avoided – as with so many other aspects of health, “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” If you can do your best to avoid getting cavities, your teeth will thank you for it.

November 16, 2014

What is a filling? What are the different types?

178845072When you get a cavity in one of your teeth, you will need to get a filling. This is also called a “restoration” because it involves repairing and renewing a tooth. There are several main options for dental fillings – talk with your dentist to determine which option is best for you.

Fillings fall into two main categories: direct and indirect restorations. The type of filling you receive is affected in part by the type of restoration you need.

In a direct restoration, the work is fairly straightforward and uncomplicated –the dentist is able to remove any tooth decay, create the filling and complete the work of repairing the tooth all within the same office visit.

With an indirect restoration, the dental work is usually a bit more complicated and requires two or more visits to your dentist – for example, there might be bridgework involved that affects multiple teeth, or crowns or veneers to repair damaged teeth, or other complications. Your dentist will take an impression of your affected teeth and send the work to a dental laboratory to create the permanent restoration. Then, at a follow-up appointment, your dentist will do the final step of cementing the restoration onto your teeth.

Depending on whether you need a direct or indirect restoration, you and your dentist can choose from the following types of filling materials. Each one has its various advantages and disadvantages; your dentist can help you decide on the material that is best for your needs.

Direct restoration fillings:

  • Amalgam: This is the most common type of filling and has been used for over 100 years. The amalgam is made from a mixture of mercury, silver and other metals – they are often called “silver fillings” because of their silver color.
    • Advantages: Inexpensive, durable, highly resistant to further tooth decay, and can usually be placed in just one office visit. Amalgam also performs well as a biting surface – it holds up to the pressures and wear of chewing and eating over time.
    • Disadvantages: Placement of amalgam requires the removal of a small amount of healthy tooth material. Amalgam also tends to be less attractive looking than some of the other options for filling material – after all, natural teeth are not silver. For this reason, amalgam fillings are usually used only on the back teeth.


A note about amalgam and mercury: Some individuals and advocacy groups have questioned the safety of dental amalgam because it contains mercury and releases a small amount of mercury vapor over the course of its life. Dental amalgam has been the subject of numerous research studies over the years, and no valid scientific research has proven that dental amalgam causes harm to patients, except in rare cases of allergy. So if you need to get amalgam fillings, rest assured that they are safe – and if you do have an allergy to the materials, a different filling can be used.

  • Composite resin: Composite is made from a combination of acrylic resin and glass-like particles that create a natural-looking tooth material.
    • Advantages: Natural looking – the color can be matched to your existing teeth. It tends to allow for the preservation of a greater portion of the original tooth.
    • Disadvantages: Composite fillings are usually more expensive than metal fillings. They also tend to wear down faster and can be prone to breaking more often – resulting in the need for additional dental work in the future to repair or replace the fillings. Composite fillings cannot be used for certain situations – as always, talk to your dentist.
    • Glass ionomer: Glass ionomers are made from acrylic and glass powder and are used primarily for small fillings.
      • Advantages: Natural tooth color. Low incidence of allergic reaction – most people do not have allergies to this material. Glass ionomer fillings can be made to include fluoride to help resist further tooth decay.
      • Disadvantages: This is not as durable of a filling material as the other options – it is only used for small fillings and in areas that are not subject to a lot of heavy biting and chewing. This material can become rough as it ages, resulting in plaque buildup. It is also more costly than amalgam fillings – similar in price to composite resin.
      • Resin ionomer: This type of filling is made from glass filler, acrylic acids and acrylic resin. It is often used for fillings in baby teeth and on non-chewing surfaces.
        • Advantages: Natural tooth color – is even more translucent than glass ionomer fillings. Can contain fluoride. More durable than glass ionomer.
        • Disadvantages: Not recommended for biting surfaces in adult teeth; less durable than composite and amalgam.

Indirect restoration fillings:

  • Porcelain (ceramic): This type of filling material is commonly used in indirect restorations. The ceramic porcelain can also be fused to metal as part of the tooth restoration – which improves the durability of the filling but also increases the complexity and cost of the dental work.
    • Advantages: Natural tooth color. Requires very little healthy tooth material to be removed.
    • Disadvantages: Tends to be more brittle than other materials. May not be recommended for molars. Usually requires two or more office visits to place the filling, and tends to be more costly.
    • Gold (or other metal) alloy: Gold alloys (containing gold, copper and other metals) are another option for indirect restorations.
      • Advantages: Excellent durability, does not break under stress.
      • Disadvantages: Gold is usually the highest-cost option for a filling. Not a “natural” tooth color.

As always, talk with your dentist to find the right choice of fillings for your needs.

October 16, 2014

What is dry socket?

462039415It’s not most people’s idea of a good time, but sometimes it has to happen – sometimes a tooth needs to be pulled. This is what we in the dental profession call an “extraction” – a tooth is removed from a patient in order to treat decay, reduce crowding in the mouth, or to prevent infection and other problems (for example: Wisdom teeth).

Whenever a tooth is removed, the patient need to take certain precautions and follow guidelines to help care for their mouth as it heals. The site of the tooth extraction is going to be sore. There will be some bleeding. In the hours after the tooth is pulled, you will need to use ice, gauze and follow instructions closely to help ensure that your mouth heals properly.

But sometimes, in spite of all of our best efforts, something goes wrong, and the patient gets a “dry socket.”

What is “dry socket?”

Dry socket occurs when the blood clot in the site of the tooth extraction gets dislodged or washed away – exposing the nerves and jawbone below. This is not fun, to say the least; in fact, it hurts – a lot. Dry socket is not a great experience, but it can be prevented – and if you do get a dry socket, it can be treated.

Dry socket occurs in only about 3 to 5 percent of all tooth extractions – so most people will never experience dry socket. It’s much more common after removing Wisdom teeth – especially impacted Wisdom teeth that are embedded in the jawbone and are more complicated to remove.

How does dry socket happen?

When a tooth is removed, the gum line where the tooth used to be needs to heal. There is some bleeding whenever a tooth is pulled, but in time, the “socket” where the tooth used to be will fill in with a blood clot – the beginning of the new tissue that will form to fill in the gap.

The trouble is, sometimes this blood clot gets washed away or dislodged.  Or sometimes the blood clot never forms properly in the first place. There might be a bacterial infection in the socket, or roots and bone fragments that prevent the socket from healing properly. If a tooth was impacted (which tends to be more likely for Wisdom teeth in particular), it is often more difficult for the socket to heal.

How do I know if I have dry socket?

Usually whenever a tooth is pulled, the person’s mouth will quickly heal and start to feel better with each passing day. When a person has a dry socket, instead of gradually feeling better, there is a persistent and growing pain that tends to get worse. Here are some other signs of dry socket:

  • If you are feeling severe pain within a few days of getting a tooth removed…
  • If you look into your mouth and notice that the blood clot where the tooth used to be is missing (totally or partially), resulting in an empty-looking (“dry”) socket…
  • If you can see through to the jaw bone at the tooth socket…
  • If you feel pain that travels to your ear or eye on the same side of your face where your tooth was removed…
  • If you notice that you have bad breath or an unpleasant odor coming from your mouth…
  • If you have an extremely unpleasant taste in your mouth…
  • If the lymph nodes around your jaw or neck are swollen…

…then you might have dry socket. Call your dentist immediately to make an appointment.

How can dry socket be treated?

Dry socket is not pleasant, but it can easily be treated. It’s just a slightly longer and more complicated healing process than a “non-dry” socket. Here are some things to expect from dry socket treatment:

  • Medicated dressings: Your dentist will apply specially medicated dressings to the inside of your mouth to cover up the socket and protect your exposed nerve endings. This will help relieve pain and stimulate your gums and jawbone to heal.
  • Pain medication: Of course, you’re going to need pain relief. Your dentist can prescribe you some – or you might be able to treat the pain just with over-the-counter pills like acetaminophen or ibuprofen.
  • Flushing out the socket: Your dentist will give you self-care instructions on how to keep your dry socket clean and free of debris – this is a critical part of recovering from a dry socket.
  • Time: It takes awhile to recover from a dry socket – usually around 10-14 days. But most patients are able to return to school, work and normal activities within the first few days.

Having a dry socket can be painful and a bit discouraging, but if you quickly recognize the problem and can get treated, you’ll be on the road to recovery before you know it.

September 16, 2014

How often should I visit my dentist?

178067655People are busy. Life is getting more hectic all the time. It seems like we all have too many demands on us and too few hours in the day – so how can we find time to fit in a dental appointment along with everything else? Why do we have to go to the dentist, and how often should we go?

The short answer is: every six months.

The long answer is, well, longer…

Modern dentistry evolved in the past 50-60 years starting after World War II. One of the challenges faced by the U.S. during World War II was that the American military leaders discovered that many of their new Army recruits did not have very good teeth – in the “olden days,” the practice of dentistry was more focused on fixing problems (mainly: pulling teeth) than it was on preventing dental problems and maintaining overall dental health. Most Americans, especially those in small towns and rural areas, never saw a dentist unless they had a painful toothache, which usually led to having a tooth (or multiple teeth) pulled.

In the years since World War II, American dentistry has shifted its focus from “pulling teeth” to “preventing problems” – before they develop into more harmful, painful and costly oral health issues.

So this is the reason why you need to see your dentist every six months: even if you have good teeth and rarely have any problems with your oral health, your dentist needs to check up on your teeth just to make sure everything is OK. Your dentist is there to help maintain your overall oral health and prevent problems before they come up.

Even if you’ve never had a cavity in your life and you brush and floss every day, your dentist can detect problems with your teeth that you are unable to see. Your dentist can look for the signs of tooth decay and other warning signs so that if a problem with your teeth does start to develop, it can be fixed before it reaches a stage where it is more costly and difficult to correct.

Another benefit of going to the dentist every six months is to receive a thorough teeth cleaning from a dental hygienist. Most of us cannot come even close to getting our teeth as clean as they feel after a good scrubbing by the hygienist – and your dental hygienist can also help check for signs of trouble – whether it’s receding gums, bleeding gums or other potential warning signs.

In fact, for some patients, every six months might not be often enough. If you have a history of oral health problems, or if you are going through a particularly stressful time in your life, your dentist might want to see you more frequently. For example, pregnant women are often at higher risk for gingivitis – and severe gingivitis can be a risk factor for pre-term delivery and low-birthweight babies. If you are one of these “high-risk” dental patients, you might need to see your dentist even more often than every six months.

So that’s “the long answer!”

Even though we’re all busy and it’s hard to get excited about “yet another” appointment on the calendar, keeping your six-month appointment with your dentist is a good investment of your time – and money.

August 16, 2014

How often should I brush my teeth? Why?

general dentistryTooth brushing is one of the first lessons of personal care that we learn as children – for many of us, brushing our teeth is one of the first “health habits” that we are taught in life.

Brushing your teeth is the simplest and most cost-effective way to preserve your oral health and to enjoy a lifetime of healthy teeth and gums. But it has to become a habit – it has to be something that you do every single day, whether you “feel like it” or not.

It’s interesting how often adults allow their tooth brushing to lapse. Or they might forget about the proper brushing technique, or how often to brush.

Do you know how often you’re supposed to brush your teeth? Let’s take a pop quiz:

People should brush their teeth….

  1. At least once a week
  2. Every day – in the morning
  3. Every day – at night
  4. Every day, but only after lunch
  5. Every day – twice a day – at night and in the morning

The answer is… e!

The American Dental Association (ADA) recommends that people brush their teeth twice every day – once at night before going to bed, and once in the morning. Brushing your teeth at night helps to remove bacteria and keeps your mouth clean while you sleep. Brushing your teeth in the morning helps freshen your breath and  removes any bacteria that built up during the long night of sleep.

But what if you only have time to brush your teeth once a day, or what if you forget?

In that case – and again, you should always try to brush twice each day – it’s most important to brush at night before going to bed. The reason? During the eight (or so) hours that you are asleep, the bacteria in your mouth have an entire night to themselves. This makes it especially important to brush your teeth before going to sleep.

For example, if you drink a can of soda or eat something sugary right before bed, and then go to sleep without brushing your teeth, you are basically allowing the bacteria on your teeth to have a party all night without supervision!

But by brushing your teeth at night, you are getting a head start on the constant battle that goes on inside your mouth every night. You are beating back the bacteria and preventing them from damaging your teeth and gums. (Okay, maybe it’s not always quite as dramatic as that – but you get the picture, right?)

Bonus tip:

In addition to brushing your teeth twice a day, the ADA recommends that you floss once a day as well. Flossing is important because it allows you to clean in between your teeth – removing bacteria and plaque, and keeping your gums healthy. Flossing helps keep your gums in shape – if you don’t floss often enough, your gums might bleed, which, if you’re not careful, can be a sign of possible gum disease and infections.

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555 N. New Ballas Rd., Suite 355, St. Louis, MO 63141 USA
Dr. Jeffrey Dalin Dalin Dental Associates is the dental office of Dr. Jeffrey Dalin and is located in St. Louis, MO offering cosmetic dentistry, general and restorative dentistry to families. (314) 567-3555 (314) 567-9047